Californians for Justice began mobilizing communities for racial justice in Oakland in 1996. From the start, CFJ has drawn from the East Bay community’s unique history of social activism and community organizing to tackle racial justice through the education system and build up the next generation of organizers to lead that change.
Despite people of color making up more than 67 percent of the city’s population, students and communities of color in Oakland face a number of historic hurdles to their success in school and beyond. From redlining and housing discrimination, to the criminalization of black and brown communities, students of color need additional supports to have the same chance to thrive.
Oakland Unified’s student body is rich in diversity, with students of color making up 90 percent of all students, but Black, Latinx, Pacific Islander, Native American and Southeast Asian youth are still facing different outcomes than their white peers. Students of color are underrepresented in district college-prep and honors courses but overrepresented in school discipline cases. In 2016-17, 8.8% of Black students, 5.4% of Pacific Islander, and 5.3% of Native American students in OUSD were suspended compared to 1% of White students.
“For years, students like me in Oakland have been asking: How can we succeed when our classrooms are overcrowded and we have outdated computers, damaged textbooks, and so few desks that students have to stand or sit on the floor? How can we succeed without enough AP classes, counselors and college prep support? In other words, how can you expect us to succeed when we’re being set up to fail? ”
– Cindy Andrade Oakland High Alumni
Despite these challenges, Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) is becoming a bright spot in the State of California where key innovations and leaps in racial equity are happening through district and community partnerships. OUSD is working to intentionally to address racial bias and systemic barriers for students of color, implement holistic practices, and deepen its community engagement process. In response to severe budget cuts and low teacher retention rates that have exacerbated challenges in OUSD, district and school leaders have deepened their partnership with Californians for Justice youth leaders to ensure that every single child, whether Black, Latinx, Asian, Pacific Islander, Native American, or White, is supported to reach their full potential.
“Moving from Pacifica to Oakland schools, what was most jarring was that students believed that they were never meant to be successful-- never to become anything more than the stereotypes attached to them because of their skin color, the countries they fled to escape violence, the language they spoke. And suddenly the jokes about dropping out and the stereotypical careers were the only options for us.”
– Naudika Williams, Oakland High School Alum, Oakland
Over the years, Californians for Justice has made a number of strides in achieving educational and racial justice in Oakland Unified School District. Our successes include:
- Training and developing leadership skills of hundreds of Oakland youth. Our alumni go on to attend four-year universities and spearhead their own campaigns for civic engagement and social change.
- CFJ student leaders successfully moved OUSD to expand the College Recruitment Network to more campuses and create a student advisory committee for its College and Career Readiness Committee. The changes ensured student voice in programs and policies related to college and career preparation.
- CFJ’s “So Fresh, So Clean” campaign to address poor infrastructure and repair needs at Oakland High School succeeded in getting district officials to access funds to replace outdated equipment and apply for $13 million from the state’s Emergency Repair Program to repair the school’s broken heating and air conditioning systems.
- CFJ youth leaders won the development of the first LCAP Student Advisory Committee in a large urban school district, giving youth a voice in their district’s annual budgeting process. The Student Advisory Committee has improved academic and school climate outcomes for students of color, and student participation tripled over the last three years.
CFJ’s Current Work:
Californians for Justice is working in a variety of ways to advance equity in Oakland to ensure every young person feels safe, supported and capable of thriving. Learn more about how we make change across the state here.
Relationship Centered Schools
Relationships between students and educators are crucial to raising student achievement and ending the school-to-prison-pipeline for youth of color. Through our Relationship Centered Schools Campaign, Californians for Justice youth leaders identified that caring relationships with educators were the key to ensuring students, especially students of color, feel like they belong, are believed in, and are supported to succeed in college, career, and community life. Unfortunately, school climate surveys show that 1 in 3 students in California cannot name a single caring adult on campus.
What is a Relationship Centered School?
A Relationship Centered School breaks down the cycles of racial bias and inequity in our schools by supporting educators and students to build relationships that embrace and empower all students to pursue their dreams. They are schools that invest in school staff, value student voice, and create space for relationship building.”
Californians for Justice is collaborating with the Oakland Unified School District, the Talent Division overseeing teacher retention, and two high schools--Oakland and Fremont--to create Relationship Centered Schools that value student voice, create space for relationship building, and prioritize teacher retention and support, particularly for teachers of color. Ensuring teachers of color, who are in high demand in California schools, have the support they need to succeed in and stay in their position is a key condition for equitable learning. As part of our collaboration with OUSD, we will be launching youth-led orientation trainings to support first-time teachers, and integrating students into staff hiring committees.
Recent action research conducted by CFJ that found that 96% of teachers agree that having meaningful relationships with students is key to their teaching success. The same survey showed that 79% of teachers did not believe that they received adequate salary and benefits, especially for Oakland’s cost of living. Oakland Unified’s exit survey also found that half of teachers left because of low salaries. “I got priced out of Oakland and now I commute. That’s an hour longer to my day just to work for OUSD.”
“When teachers come and go we lose the strong connections students need to feel safe and comfortable at school. We can struggle and fall behind in our classes. We can become overwhelmed and not know who to turn to for assistance. We can check out and go through an entire day without talking in class or connecting with an adult.”
– Jiawen, Californians for Justice Leader, Student at Oakland High School
A critical strategy of our Relationship Centered Schools campaign is shifting the narrative in Oakland to see that race cannot be separated from how students of color experience the classroom and our education system. We are engaging youth, community allies, and educators in Oakland to discuss how we can better center race in our words, in our actions, and in our policies to truly address the inequities youth of color face in our schools and communities. By putting racial equity at the forefront of our work, we hope to promote innovative ideas and the honest reflection that is needed to break the cycle of racial bias and inequality.
Equity & Engagement through the Local Control Funding Formula
Californians for Justice was instrumental in securing the adoption of the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) in 2013. The new school funding formula is a key part of our goal to promote equity, engagement and accountability in the public education system, bringing real racial justice to our community. Since 2013, CFJ has worked with Oakland youth and families to understand the new law which prioritizes resources for low-income, English Learner and foster youth and requires great levels of community input and accountability.
We launched and have continued to support a LCFF Student Advisory Committee which was the first in the state for a large urban school district. The Student Advisory Committee has proven to be a critical mechanism for youth of color to be uplifted as valued decision-makers and stakeholders in and outside of the school district.
We work closely with Oakland ally organizations around the annual Local Control and Accountability Plan process and are currently facilitating a Professional Learning Network for OUSD to join with other Bay Area districts to improve their student and family engagement practices. CFJ will continue to ensure that students and families are well-informed of the OUSD Local Control and Accountability Plan and are meaningfully engaged in the decisions that impact them.
Youth Leadership & Civic Engagement
To ensure our goal of equity and racial justice in schools and our communities is achieved, CFJ is actively developing a multi-racial youth base in Oakland that is inclusive of LGBTQ students, foster youth, low-income and immigrant youth. We are actively growing our base of high school youth to include perspectives and promote leadership of students traditionally underrepresented in decision-making.We understand that these youth are the current and future leaders our city and state need, so now is the time to support them in using their voices for change.
CFJ provides leadership development opportunities throughout the school year and summer to ensure our youth leaders gain the political education and valuable organizing skills they need to lead social justice movements. Every year we hold a intensive five-week Summer Youth Leadership Academy, a Fall Leadership Bootcamp, and a Statewide Leadership Retreat in the Spring in addition to weekly youth meetings and workshops. Youth then apply what they are learning in real-time by taking leadership roles in school governance and in our advocacy campaigns.
Through our civic engagement work, CFJ is building an integrated voter engagement strategy with young voters of color in Oakland and across the state to ensure our policies and elected officials reflect their needs and interests. While some of our youth may be too young to vote, they are not too young to care. Oakland youth take active roles in leading “Get out the Vote” drives, voter education events, and youth-centered candidate forums for local elections.
CFJ Oakland is filling a unique role in the community and helping to shift the narrative to ensure our city’s youth are seen as valuable leaders that are worthy of the best Oakland possible.